Sarah Clifford Glapa’s educational journey at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, spanning from undergraduate studies to dual master’s degrees, has propelled her into an impactful career in public health and health communications. Her experiences, from playing a pivotal role in the COVID-19 response to her current position as the Associate Director of Marketing & Health Communications at University Health Services (UHS), offer valuable insights for students aspiring to follow a similar path.
Q. Can you tell me about your educational journey?
A: I started at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Fall 2013. In the spring semester of my freshman year, I took LSC 100 which led to me declaring the major. I ended up graduating in spring 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in Biology and Life Sciences Communication. I also got a certificate in Global Health. I then continued my education at UW-Madison and graduated with dual master’s degrees in Life Sciences Communication and Public Health in Spring 2020.
Q. Can you tell me about your first job post-graduation?
A: When I graduated in Spring 2020, I immediately jumped into COVID-19 response efforts with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. I was the Communicable Diseases Health Educator in the Bureau of Communicable Disease Prevention and an active member of the state’s COVID-19 Response Team. As a recent graduate with intersectional interests in public health and science communication, I knew I wanted to get started in public health. Though it was a challenging time globally, it was an ideal time to be joining the workforce in public health. In my role, I led COVID-19 health education efforts, which included developing plain-language guidance about COVID-19 prevention, testing, and vaccination. I worked closely with our data scientists and epidemiologists to determine clear ways to communicate data to the media and the public. I also worked very closely with the Office of the Secretary on press briefings and statements.
Q. What about your current position?
A: Currently, I’m the Associate Director of Marketing & Health Communications at University Health Services (UHS) at UW-Madison. I oversee campus-wide communication campaigns to encourage students to seek care at UHS and move attitudes and behaviors around health topics relevant to college-aged students. We gather feedback from students through surveys and focus groups to inform our communication strategies and assess campaign effectiveness. My team works across UHS and the university as a whole to communicate information about physical and mental health, alcohol and drug misuse prevention, and sexual violence prevention. I am also an instructor in the School of Medicine and Public Health. Each fall, I teach a required course for second-year public health graduate students called ‘Communicating Public Health Information Effectively II’ In this role, I have the opportunity to teach students about social science theories that underlie effective public health messaging and introduce practical examples of how that research is applied in the real world.
Q. How did your education and experiences in the LSC department prepare you for your career?
A: The LSC department was incredibly important in my career preparations. In public health and health communications, I often see a preference for messaging from a knowledge deficit perspective. There’s a strong focus on education and using data to inform the public, with the idea being that there’s simply a deficit of knowledge and that we need to educate the public to move behavior. LSC taught me time and time again how important it is to understand the audience you’re communicating with; their values, experiences, and attitudes inform health behaviors. In my career, I’m continuously bringing that perspective into my work. Further, my experience as a Teaching Assistant (TA) in LSC prepared me for my current teaching role. I feel confident presenting, facilitating class discussions, and engaging with students because of my years as an LSC 100 TA.
Q. What advice do you have for students who hope to follow a similar path?
A: Health communicators are critically important actors in public health right now. I encourage students to get involved in any way they can – whether it be bench science research on public health topics, community outreach, or public service positions. I’m a strong believer that every experience is worthwhile in school. Even if you end up not enjoying a particular position, you certainly learned something about yourself and are one step closer to finding something you love. I’ve had multiple instances in my career where a connection I made at a previous job or internship ended up opening a new opportunity that would not have been possible without that connection. Try new things and seek out people who have positions that seem interesting to you. Conversations are a great way to build connections and see what careers are out there.
Written by: Jocelyn Cao, LSC M.S. ’23
Published: December 2023